When football legend Walter Payton died from liver disease at age 45 in 1999, Chris Gillott, an electrician in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield tower in Chicago, found a unique way to pay tribute to the Bears star. Gillott manipulated the lighting and window shades in the 54-story building to spell out Payton's jersey number: 34.
Outliers: He put public health up in lights
That started a tradition still being carried on today of using the building's window grid to create messages celebrating the city's achievements (“Sox Pride” in 2005 for a World Series win) and promoting various causes—including public health. This month, photos of a message urging Chicagoans to “Get a flu shot” went (ahem) viral on Twitter. If Outliers has the chronology correct, it began with a Dec. 6 photo tweet from a local radiologist using the handle “GammaCounter.” The pic was retweeted by Harvard epidemiologist John Brownstein, who added “Impressive flu prevention promotion in Chicago,” which was retweeted by an Australian “health policy wonk” and “political junkie.”
It was retweeted again by Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair. And the thread culminated Dec. 13 with Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tweeting “Love this!”
By that time, however, the message on the building changed. Gillott, 57, died suddenly Dec. 5—before the building's flu shot message was sent all over cyberspace. His co-workers paid tribute by lighting up the building with the message “Thanks Chris.”
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